Hearthstone First Impressions: You mean this ISN’T MtG?

ss1-fullI’ll be the first to admit, I gave quite the “wut” reaction when I first heard that Blizzard was doing an online TCG game based on the Warcraft universe. Perhaps it was the way they described it as “something different” that made me believe it would be anything other than related to their biggest and most profitable cash cow.

After spending a good amount of time with the closed beta of Hearthstone, though, I could tell that there really is something engaging about it. Maybe it’s the sense of humor that the game has that portrays the idea of a bunch of friends coming back from a battlefield to relax and enjoy themselves. Maybe it’s the simplistic way matches progress, doing away with turn steps and just allowing the player to do whatever they need to do in whatever order they desire. Maybe it’s the similarities to games like Magic: the Gathering, and the complex amount of meta strategy that they share.

Whatever it is, it’s what makes Hearthstone so appealing. At the same time, it is also what makes it frustrating at times.

I have taken a liking to my Warlock deck, which is based on one of the nine original classes from World of Warcraft. However, such a deck has not been easy to build, as it is clearly one of the more difficult formats to work with. The reason for this is that a lot of Warlock cards have very strong positive effects, but also equally or stronger negative effects that make you question their worth. Cards like Soulfire can allow for heavy burst damage, but cause you to discard a card at random, which can put you in a worse position if you don’t clear your hand out of cards you’d like to keep beforehand. Meanwhile, a Doomguard is a 5/7 minion with charge, allowing it to attack the same turn it becomes played, but requires you to discard two cards instead.


Even the Hero Power, a special ability that each deck type has, is a double-edged sword. Life Tap, a reference to the WoW ability the class has, allows you to draw an extra card for a portion of your health. Unlike other Hero Powers like the Mage’s Fireblast that become easily spammable in late game, the Warlock’s becomes a much larger risk in the same period unless you have a lot of ways to heal yourself, or have a healthy life lead. Because of this, much care and planning is needed so that you don’t inadverdently put yourself in a position to be defeated in one fell swoop.

This is the trial and error process that I went through in learning how the cards worked. However, for each frustrating loss, for each time I cursed at every other class’s more accessible abilities, I found myself going back after each game and adjusting my deck, taking out what didn’t work and improving on what did. Eventually, I had a deck focused around using creatures that boost my spell power, to make those risky damage spells worth taking the risk for.

When I got my first win in an online match against a player using a Hunter deck, I realized that it was worth the effort: I had finally found the magic formula. That was the same kind of glee I got when I played MtG, the feeling of satisfaction when you get your deck the way you want it to be and are able to put up a good fight with it.

There is still one thing that keeps nagging at the back of my head, and that’s the monetization factor of the game. The game itself will be free-to-play when it launches, and players will be able to purchase cards packs with either coins you win in game, or with real money. This also applies to entering the Arena, where you assemble a deck of random cards and go against other players to see how far you can get. This is actually fine in itself, as the game does not force its players to spend money just to play the game.


However, the issue that I find perplexing is how TCG games in general work and how it relates to Hearthstone. Games like MtG are inherently pay-to-win, and you will have a hard time finding someone who disagrees with this. Competitive players spend hundreds of dollars a year on cards alone, searching for the best ones to add to their decks. Yet this is also the main appeal of such games, as the collecting part has its own reward, especially when you come across an incredibly rare card. Even when new cards are inevitably introduced, this desire to collect them to stay up-to-date with the game persists.

This is the tightrope that Blizzard has to walk carefully across in Hearthstone, but it is also their best money making plan. Even though you can play just fine with your basic cards, and have the ability to disenchant cards you don’t use to craft the ones you do want, you will no doubt run into players that have clearly spent way more money than they should have on card packs, especially since the game is still in closed beta.

However, once you get your basic class cards, there’s not many ways to obtain new ones other than the aforementioned methods. It would be really nice for there to be a way to trade cards with other players, to help solidify the feel of playing an actual TCG game, and to allow players that don’t want to have to shell out a few bucks another means to get cards. On the other hand, it would also be nice to have more non-game changing options on what to purchase with our physical money, such as new characters to play as. I think it would be awesome to play as someone like Lonika Stillblade for a Rogue deck, or even Putress for Warlock since Forsaken representation is nonexistent at the moment.

Still, Hearthstone itself is definitely a blast to play, and while it still needs a bit of sprucing up (mostly graphical bugs), we can hopefully see some new features and balance tweaks when it gets close to its eventual release, which is…… whenever the hell they decide to release it I guess. I’m officially going to dub it Blizzard Time, after another company’s habits of lengthy development periods.

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